‘The Opioid Epidemic and U.S. Culture’: New Book Sheds Light on Expressive Culture and Its Protests of Isolating Language Regarding Addiction

Written for project The Opioid Effect, a report collaborative between West Virginia University, Morgan State University and Brigham Young University. Read the full piece here.

There’s often a disconnect between statistics on opioid misuse disorders and the real people the numbers represent. That disconnect tends to trickle its way down to the policymakers tasked with enacting change and providing opportunities to those living with substance use disorder. At least, that’s what Travis Stimeling, associate professor of musicology at West Virginia University, noticed of the West Virginia legislature. 

“I was sitting around watching the legislature, and they were debating what to do about the opioid epidemic in West Virginia,” Stimeling said. “And they kept talking about people like they were statistics, you know, they really weren’t talking about people like they were people.”

As a response, Stimeling pulled together a variety of experts, including musicologists, journalists, academics, practitioners and those with first-hand knowledge of addiction, to detail the connection between opioid misuse and abuse and American culture in a book set to release later this year through West Virginia University Press. “The Opioid Epidemic and U.S. Culture: Expression, Art, and Politics in an Age of Addiction” aims to challenge the dehumanizing language and attitudes Stimeling experienced in West Virginia’s political system, while also highlighting creative portrayals of recovery and offering new perspectives on the opioid crisis. 

The essays within the collection highlight the connections between recovery and expressive culture, or the way society conveys ideas and beliefs through art, according to WVU Press’s website. These artforms have seen the impact of the opioid crisis on American culture, through the creation of documentaries, films and TV shows, music, poems and many, many more. 

Paige Zalman, a PhD student and program coordinator of the Research Apprenticeship Program at West Virginia University, was one of the experts Stimeling invited to be featured in the collection of work. Her excerpt examines images of addiction recovery and privilege in mainstream hip hop from 2000 to 2010. 

Read the full interview on The Opioid Effect’s website.

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